It can be hard to separate yourself from the tourist traps. In fact, Amsterdam has become so overrun with visitors that the Dutch Tourism Board has made efforts to disincentivise travellers from visiting the capital over the past years. So, for a more authentic experience, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best kept secrets in the Netherlands.
Coronavirus update: We’ve added information to each gem about any changes you can expect there as a result of the current crisis. We haven’t added anything where you can check the place out as you would in normal times: keeping your distance from others, of course.
Visit an abandoned radio station
📍 Where: Apeldoorn
Radio Kootwij is an abandoned building situated in the middle of a forest clearing. It was built in 1923 to emit radio frequencies between the Netherlands and Indonesia (known back then as the “Dutch Indies”). Only five years after it was built the station was deemed outdated and abandoned.
Meander around the nearby forest, sand dunes, and heath before exploring this ominous building.
Visit a villa and have lunch in the middle of a garden
📍 Where: Dordrecht
Villa Augustas is a hotel and restaurant situated in the middle of a flourishing vegetable garden in Dordrecht. It also boasts an enticing market that is open daily and sells freshly baked sourdough bread, a variety of fruit and vegetables, and ceramics. They also put on excellent concerts. You can easily make a reservation and check out the concert program online.
|Coronavirus update: To enter the restaurant, you must show a valid QR code.|
Hang out at Zoku Amsterdam and get panoramic views of the city (and free cookies and fruit!)
📍 Where: Amsterdam
Zoku is a great place to hang out as it has very welcoming vibes and beautiful decor. You can come with friends for a casual drink, relax on the hammocks outside, play ping pong indoors, or knuckle down with freelance work over a cup of coffee at one of their epic work tables.
The best part is there are free sweets, fruit, and biscuits! So eat your heart out, stingy travellers!
|Coronavirus update: To use Zoku’s space, you must show a valid QR code.|
Visit the public bar in the Vrankrijk squat house (one of the oldest in the Netherlands)
📍 Where: Amsterdam
This building has an extremely varied and rich history. It began as a woodwork shop in 1875 and then became a printers. It was used by Martin Toonder and others to print fake documents for the resistance during World War II. It was first squatted in in 1982 by protesters who wanted to prevent it’s demolition.
Now, alternative bands play in the public bar and if you want a funky night out then head here!
|Coronavirus update: Call ahead to find out when the bar is open and to reserve a spot! Details on the website.|
The Tiny Hidden Houses in Amsterdam
📍 Where: Jordaan, Amsterdam
Hidden within the crack next to the number for 54 on Westerstraat in the Jordaan area are a bunch of miniature houses. They were inserted between two houses to make a statement when the courtyard situated behind the building was removed in order to make room for more houses.
Van Gogh Cycling Path
📍 Where: Eindhoven
There is a cycling path in in Eindhoven that lights up to display The Starry Night by Van Gogh. Thousands of glistening pebbles ingrained into the concrete absorb light during the day and emit colour at night.
Drink a beer in a Cold War bunker
📍 Where: Vondelpark, Amsterdam
This old cold war bunker hosts a variety of events, from art exhibitions, movie nights, dinners, and even their own brewery called Bunkerbier. The Vondelbunker is hidden underneath a bridge in Vondelpark — get exploring!
|Corona update: The bunker hasn’t had many events recently. You can check out all the events on the website, where you can also find out how to reserve.|
Ride the free white bikes in Veluwe, Gelderland
📍 Where: De Hoge Veluwe National Park
You might have heard of De Hoge Veluwe National Park (the largest in Holland) but not about the free white bikes. If you are visiting this national park you can grab one white bikes free of charge and explore over 40 kilometres of cycling paths.
This concept dates back to the sixties when a group of social innovators wanted free bikes to be available to everyone and anyone in Amsterdam. The project was never implemented in the capital but stuck in De Hoge Veluwe. There are over 1,800 white bikes scattered around the park and you can pick and drop them off wherever you fancy (with no need to lock them).
Cycle from Leiden to Nordwijk
📍 Where: Leiden/Noordwijk
It is often far quicker to cycle to the coast from a west coast city than to use public transport. The cycle trip from Leiden to Nordwijk takes only around 30 minutes and will reward you will undulating sand dune views, cute seaside towns and of course, the North Sea. Pack a picnic and go and enjoy the ride!
Go to a (reasonably priced) music festival on every Sunday near Amsterdam
📍 Where: Ruigoord
Ruigoord is located near Amsterdam and hosts a different festival each Sunday. The set-up is whacky with entrancing lights and colourful sculptures dotted around a looming church. Ticket prices are usually between €10 and 40.
So there you have it; a few ideas to have a unique and memorable experience in the Netherlands. You won’t always evade tourists or tourist traps (and sometimes they definitely can be worthwhile) but it’s nice to discover hidden gems for yourself and have a more authentic experience.
Have you already done a few of these? Did we miss any “off the beaten path” experiences? Tell us in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2019, and was fully updated in November 2021 for your reading pleasure.